ArtsFest 2009 – Friday in the Jewellery Quarter

ArtsFest comes to the Jewellery Quarter this weekend, kicking off on Friday.

A E Harris Factory
Birmingham's internationally recognised theatre company, Stan's Café, present their new installation: do-it-yourself family theatre.

St. Paul's Church
Featuring A Capella Birmingham Chamber Choir and members of Instant Opera.


ArtsFest 2009 – Friday in the City Centre

This year's incarnation of ArtsFest is about to kick off, so I thought I'd spend some time going through the highlights, starting with Friday's performances across the city centre.

Symphony Hall
Lunchtime concert with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's electrifying music.

Centenary Square Dance Marquee
Learn the dance steps for Saturday's World Record attempt.

Centenary Square Stage
Featuring Someone @ the Door Samba Band & Bloco Louco

The Prince of Wales
Chav comedy poet... Innit.

Centenary Square Dance Marquee
Raging Skulls. Breath-taking dance, parkour and breakdance.

Town Hall
30th Anniversary Concert for BBC Radio 2. Britain's finest big band is joined by singing star Matthew Ford for a night of swing classics.

The Old Joint Stock Theatre
Brothers need to talk. Unique and stimulating performance poetry.

The Flapper
Bleary eyed uplifting baroque rock.


Volunteering at Moseley Folk Festival

Moseley Folk FestivalOn Friday I had the pleasure of working on the Oxfam stall at the fourth Moseley Folk Festival at the beautiful Moseley Park. After a long day promoting the work of Oxfam and the Oxjam Music Festival, obtaining petition signatures and selling raffle tickets for a signed t-shirt, I got to enjoy some of the festival.

The highlight for me was the headliners Saint Etienne, who performed the whole of Fox Base Alpha before encoring with He's On The Phone. I also popped into the Real Ale tent for a couple of pints of Mad Goose. There's a very special atmosphere at Moseley Folk Festival helped by the limited capacity and family-friendly environment that some of the bigger festivals could learn from. The organisers did a fantastic job and by all accounts the rest of the weekend has gone well too. Good job all round!


Academy Launch Weekend Line Up Complete

Local act The Streets has been added to the bill for the launch weekend of the new Birmingham Academy venue in September. Mike Skinner joins Editors, The Twang and Ocean Colour Scene to celebrate the launch of the new venue over the course of four days.

The Academy is upping sticks from its Priory Square location to make way for major redevelopment. The old Dome II nightclub on Horsefair (Bristol Street) will become the Birmingham O2 Academy following a major £5m refurbishment.

The main room has increased in size to 3,000 which should mean higher calibre acts can play the city more regularly. And as at the current site, the venue will also contain smaller rooms of 600 and 250 capacities.

The full line-up is:
Thurs 10 Sept - EDITORS
Fri 11 Sept - THE TWANG
Sat 12 Sept - THE STREETS


Oxjam Conference Birmingham

I’ve been installed as Community Participation Coordinator for the Oxjam festival in Birmingham, which takes place during October this year. Last weekend I attended the 2009 Oxjam conference here in Birmingham city centre. The conference was a great opportunity to remind ourselves of all the great work Oxfam does, talk about the Oxjam concept, learn from previous years and network with teams from other towns and cities. The event took place in Digbeth's Centre for Voluntary Action - a great venue.

Of particular note was a talk from John O’Sullivan who has a proud career in event management and latterly artist management. One delegate said John’s one-hour talk was more useful than his three-year event management degree! Oxjam chief Benny Littlejohn spoke about his experience of seeing Oxfam’s work in Sierra Leone. Most useful was the role specific training where I got to meet and share ideas with other Community Participation Coordinators from places such as Leeds, London, Manchester, Blackburn and Glasgow.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who would like to put on a fundraising event, concert, gig, comedy night, karaoke party, anything, here in Birmingham. Lots of support from the central team will be available, as well as a warm fuzzy feeling!

Equally, anyone who interested in volunteering to help with fundraising, campaigning, publicity or marshalling is very welcome to get in touch. Finally, if any community groups are interested in hosting a talk to find out more about Oxfam’s work, particularly in the field of climate change, please let me know.

I say campaigning because this year’s Oxjam is raising awareness for their Here and Now campaign, which highlights the human face of climate change. I’ll write more about this and the plans for Birmingham in future weeks, but for now, check out this video which aired at this year’s Glastonbury:


The End Of The Rainbow? Part Two

Following on from my previous post regarding the Noise Abatement Order given to the Rainbow in Digbeth.

Last night I attended the official "Rainbow Response" to the Noise Abatement Order. I'd estimate about 300 people were crammed into the pub to hear the statement and with over 20,000 people now supporting the Facebook group, that just goes to show the extent of public feeling about this.

Kent's response was excellent, summarising the current position and giving his thoughts. He confirmed the Rainbow will be appealing the Noise Abatement Order. You can view Pete Ashton's video of Kent's statement here. WARNING: contains swearing!

Rainbow Meeting - Kent Davis from Pete Ashton on Vimeo.

I've also exchanged a few emails with Martin Mullaney about the subject. He's been very open about the latest position on The Stirrer Forum, here's an excerpt:

At the meeting prior to this public meeting, both Clive Dutton, Head of Planning and Regeneration and myself, made it clear to Kent Davies that we want the Rainbow to survive, that we see it as an important part of the culture of Birmingham and that we want to see Digbeth grow as a cultural and creative area.

However, the council has to work within the law. If someone complains about noise, the Council has to investigate. The officers will then have to make a determination as to whether that noise is a statutory nuisance. This will take into account if the noise is a repeat occurrence, what time of day it occurs, what level it is at.

It was also explained that the officers will not be sitting round the corner on 1st August waiting for a minor infringement of noise nuisance. Instead will only respond to complaints....and will again have to make an assessment as to whether it is a statutory nuisance.

The Rainbow - Raise the Roof Festival

So what's next? On 1st August the Rainbow holds its "Raise The Roof" fundraiser, to pay for a new roof on the courtyard. The danger is noise complaints on this day would be a breach of the Noise Abatement Order and could have serious consequences for the venue.

Again, Martin has commented on this:

It was also explained to Kent that there is a level of responsiblity on his part to try to reduce any nuisance from his 1st August event – this would include walking to the Abacus building and listening to the noise level there, using friendly customers in the Abacus building to warn him when the noise levels are getting unacceptable; look at the arrangement of his loudspeakers so the event is not replying on just loudspeakers to fill all of Adderley Street....and finally maybe consider turning down the volume a bit.

Stay tuned for further updates.


The end of the Rainbow?

A matter of hours after blogging about the Live Music bill being proposed by a Lib Dem Lord, news reaches me that The Rainbow in Digbeth has been given a noise abatement order by Birmingham City Council.

This is a real blow to what is a real hotbed of cultural activity - the Rainbow is far more than just a pub. The events are known nationally and the place attracts an incredible mix of international artists and local unknowns.

If this really is off the back of one complaint from a resident of Abacus (which by the way is a fair distance from the Rainbow and the other side of a dual carriageway!) then someone at the Council is making an enormous mistake.

As I write this, the Facebook group set up to support the venue stands a shade short of 19,000 members.

As I wrote yesterday, the issue of city centre residential developments and bars/music venues isn't going to go away, but we have to be sensible about this. The recent closure of TRMNL in the Jewellery Quarter was unfortunate as I felt from a cultural viewpoint the venue was doing great things - but the building was unsuitable, they did not have the correct planning permission and there was a genuine disturbance caused to large numbers of residents. The Council has to take a learning point there from granting a license for unsuitable premises.

There's also a learning point here. In the case of TRMNL there was a groundswell of opposition. In the case of Rainbow, you will struggle to find a single person who thinks closing the venue is the right thing to do.

There is a gathering at the Rainbow at 6.30pm this Friday where the venue will be announcing their next steps.

This morning I will be writing to all the Liberal Democrat councillors I know well to see what can be done to reverse this ludicrous situation.


Lib Dem Lord to Propose Live Music Bill

An encouraging sign for followers of the Keep Digbeth Vibrant / Noisy / Spotted Dog / Rainbow campaigns. Today a Lib Dem Lord is proposing a live music bill to clear up the bureaucratic minefield that is licensing law. In a letter printed in the Guardian, Lord Clement-Jones wrote:

Back in 2003, ministers called the new Licensing Act "a licensing regime for the 21st century", yet where live music is concerned, they actually turned the licensing clock back more than 100 years. A case in 1899 (Brearley v Morley) established that a pub landlord could let customers use a piano on his premises without an entertainment licence. Today, such a landlord could face criminal prosecution where the maximum penalty is a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.

It is as a result of absurdities like this that today, in the House of Lords, I am announcing my intention to bring forward a live music bill which will clear up the bureaucratic minefield of the Licensing Act and breathe new life into the live music scene.

Tim Clement-Jones
Lib Dem, House of Lords

In the meantime closer to home, I am talking to as many Liberal Democrat colleagues of mine as possible about the situation in Digbeth with the hope that we do not lose the Rainbow.

The issue of planning and licensing for venues in the city centre is a very delicate one, as emphasised by a number of cases in the Jewellery Quarter recently, namely TRMNL and Bluu & Mechu on Summer Row. But I firmly believe there is a balance that can and must be found. Residents, Councillors, Council Officers, Venue Owners and Gig-Goers must all work together to find that balance. Let’s get on with it.


Hockley Flyover Show – Save The Muhammed Ali Centre

What a day! I volunteered for Soweto Kinch's Hockley Flyover Show. For the unaware, the Flyover Show is intended to bring awareness of the creativity blossoming within the urban communities of Britain and in particular Hockley, where Soweto lives.

In an interview for BBC News last year, Soweto said, "Hockley was once an area where all kinds of iconic events used to happen; now the area is known for drugs, gun crime and unemployment. I live really close to the flyover and living in the same block as me is another jazz musician, poets, play writers, actors, dancers and all sorts of creative types. We really need to celebrate their work in the community. For me it’s about showing the breadth and excitement of the arts that people aren’t normally exposed to."

I'd say this aim was achieved and more. The crowd grew throughout the day and enjoyed a variety of acts from breakdance to drama, from marching bands to MCs. As the evening came, attention switched to the main stage where more established acts performed.

The focus of the day was on the campaign to Save the Muhammed Ali Centre, a run-down community centre just yards from the flyover which had been threatened with the bulldozer. A group of passionate "Street Pastors" have been campaigning to save it and I had a long chat with their leader Gerald, offering my help in fundraising amongst other things.

Hockley Flyover Crowd awaiting Bashy

Lib Dem Councillor and new Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport & Culture Martin Mullaney spent a lot of time at the festival taking in the atmosphere. He took to the stage during the afternoon to assure festival-goers that the Council would not be bulldozing the centre and would work with the various community groups on a plan to resurrect this vital community space. Good job Martin, but the less said about the dancing with Soweto and Ty the better :-)

GTA on stage

In my role as Backstage / Artist Liaison I also got to chat to the two gents behind Jazz Alive, a London-based youth Jazz project whose performance impressed everyone. I'm now pointed towards the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra by Andy Derrick - I shall check them out!

Notable mentions must go to Clare Edwards and Soweto Kinch who produced a killer combination of organisation and artistic vision. Soweto amazed me with his energy and sheer passion for what he does. By 9pm I was ready to drop, but he was still bouncing around the arena. Plus a mention for all the fantastic people I met who are too numerous to list here.

Earlier in the day